Justin Oaks and two of his sons have had some interesting conversations over the past few months.
All three are preparing to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at St. Mary parish in Milan.
“I can sense and feel that as the three of us go through this, we’re a bit more cohesive in our discussions than we were before,” said Mr. Oaks.
He’s already noticed a difference in some of the ways he and his sons interact with each other and with his wife, Stephanie, who was raised Catholic.
“It’s good for us all to be getting onto the same page,” he said.
Mr. Oaks and his 7-year-old son will be the oldest and youngest to be baptized at St. Mary this Easter.
Sometimes while the father and sons are out on an errand or doing chores together, they compare what they’re learning at church “and see if we’re on the same track,” said Mr. Oaks.
The three of them and Andy Herington, who is also taking part in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at St. Mary in Milan, are among the more than 250 candidates and catechumens who gathered in Jefferson City Feb. 18 for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.
Catechumens are preparing for baptism in the Catholic Church. Candidates have already been baptized and are seeking First Holy Communion and confirmation.
Some began but never completed their sacramental initiation and will be confirmed at Easter.
Joining all of them at the Rite of Election were family members, RCIA team members, sponsors and godparents from all over the diocese.
Some traveled for more than two hours to get to the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
“That’s been a highlight of this whole process for me,” said Mr. Herington. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came down to Jefferson City. I was amazed at how full the cathedral was. There were so many people!”
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight exchanged a sign of peace with all in the diocese who are seeking sacraments of initiation in their parishes at Easter. He inscribed the names of the catechumens into the Book of the Elect and urged the catechumens and candidates to spend the rest of Lent pursuing repentance and deeper conversion with the support of Catholics throughout the world.
“That’s something I think back on as a really great moment,” said Mr. Harrington.
“Another light of Christ”
This was Bishop McKnight’s first time presiding at the Rite of Election, having succeeded Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos as leader of the Jefferson City diocese less than two weeks previously.
Bishop McKnight noted in his homily that the Rite of Election helps maintain the Catholic Latin Rite tradition of involving the local bishop in the initiation of every member into the Church.
“You have been sent to this cathedral because we Catholics are about communion,” he said. “Our ability to be in communion with Jesus, by His own design and providence, is only in and through the hierarchical communion of the Church.”
In fact, Catholics are “Catholic” because they are in communion with their bishop, who is in communion with all the other bishops throughout the world, who are in communion with and under the Successor of St. Peter, the Pope.
Bishop McKnight noted that more than 20 bishops had gathered for the celebration of his own ordination and installation as bishop, in the presence of Pope Francis’ personal representative, the metropolitan archbishop of St. Louis, and two co-consecrating bishops.
“What was dramatically on display was the real communion of the Church, founded on Jesus Christ and nourished by our regular celebration of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Unity, and under the protection of the successors to the Apostles,” he said.
“And it was Jesus’s plan that the Church would be the means by which His Gospel and saving truth would continue to counter the lies and deceptions of the devil down to our age,” he said.
Bishop McKnight pointed out that most of the people seeking to become Catholic are doing so because of a Catholic they have encountered in their family, at work or in their community.
“We celebrate that you too will become another light of Christ in a world so desperately in need of Jesus’ love,” he said. “And we look forward to you experiencing the joy of receiving Holy Communion for the first time at the Easter Vigil.”
Deep in preparation
Held in cathedrals throughout the world on the First Sunday of Lent, the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is a significant milestone in the process of preparing to receive the Easter sacraments and become committed, active members of the Holy Catholic Church.
The candidates and catechumens have been preparing for several months — some for an even longer time — through the RCIA.
RCIA is a restoration of the catechumenate, the communal process through which people were prepared to become Christian in the early days of the Church.
The process faded away over the centuries but was brought back into being after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
The restored Rite of Election in this diocese dates back to the 1980s.
Growing up in northern Missouri, Mr. Oaks had only met a few Catholics in school and knew practically nothing about Catholic Christianity until he met his wife.
They got married five years later and have now been married for 20.
“She was basically my first exposure to the Catholic faith,” he said. “And like many people who grow up Protestant, Catholicism seemed quite foreign to me in the beginning.”
Over time, he became more comfortable with and eventually drawn to the beauty, symbolism and ancient rituals of communal worship, especially at Mass.
He said his wife and her family never put any pressure on him to convert.
Mr. and Mrs. Oaks’ sons were in the parish school of religion classes but had not been baptized.
Finally, a mutual acquaintance of the parish RCIA coordinator mentioned the process to Mr. Oaks at a Farm Bureau meeting.
“For a week, I kind of stewed on it,” Mr. Oaks recalled. “It was sort of surreal. I had already been pondering it and researching it.
“When I thought about it, for some reason, it seemed like the right thing to do.”
“It just seemed right”
Similarly, Mr. Harrington’s wife Norma grew up Catholic. He started going to Mass with her while they were dating.
They were married in the Church and their son and daughter are baptized Catholic.
“I started to enjoy it,” he said of the Mass and parish life at St. Mary. “Also, I feel it is important for our family to be all together where we go to church.”
As this year’s RCIA group at St. Mary in Milan was coming together, the parish’s RCIA coordinator Dan van Ingen invited Mr. Herington to take part.
“I had already thought a lot about it, and now just seemed like a good time,” said Mr. Herington. “It just seemed right.”
He said he enjoys and looks forward to the time he spends with his fellow candidates and catechumens and the parish RCIA team each week.
All Catholics are encouraged to hold these people up in prayer through these last, most intense weeks of preparation, known as the period of purification and enlightenment.
At the Easter Vigil Mass on March 31, the catechumens will be baptized, and they and the candidates will be confirmed and receive their First Holy Communion.
The primary symbols of fire, light, water, oil, bread and wine will be highlighted in a Mass filled with some of the Church’s richest traditions and rituals.
Neophytes, as newly initiated members of the Church are known after the Easter Vigil, will continue meeting weekly through Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after Easter.
This period, called Mystagogy, is a time to “savor the mystery” of Easter and to experience a full and joyful welcome into the community.
Mr. Oaks and Mr. Harrington both asked for prayers for perseverance to continue for the rest of their lives what God is using this time to prepare them for.